SMSW 3 – a statistical perspective on Surrey’s early medieval coin corpus

Three posts in three days was always going to be a bit of an ask, especially when trying to write them around hosting a dinner party, attending a birthday and London’s premature celebration of Swiss National Day, and watching Chris Froome’s fantastic winning of the Tour de France (not to mention an extra-busy week at work to get ourselves up-to-scratch for the external auditors). But a week lasts for seven days last time I checked, so there’s an ample comfort margin to take advantage of. Oh wait, this is day seven. The subject of this post? Coins, of course.

In the sporadic series of pieces I’ve put together over the past few months on aspects of the distribution and dates of the Anglo-Saxon coins known from Surrey, I’ve attempted to go beyond the rather inward-looking tenor of much “productive site” scholarship and offer tentative suggestions for institutional links that could explain why they have been found where they have. (I have since rediscovered an excellent essay by Tim Pestell that did much the same for a clutch of East Anglian sites more than a decade ago – Pestell 2003 – look out for a lengthier consideration of it in a piece I have waiting in the wings.) The most important of these postulations are the connections I make between “proto-penny” issues (sceats to many) and the landholdings of the monastery at Chertsey, and between broad-flan pennies and places which later emerge as modest minster churches, more often than not in royal-owned estates. Of course, it’s all very well to state such things but do the numbers stand up to scrutiny? The burden of proof is on me to put my mouth where the money is, in a manner of speaking…

I did most of the donkey work for this back in April, when I put together a provisional list of coins of the period circa 450-1100 found and recorded in Surrey. All that was needed to prepare for this analysis was to define its temporal scope and thereafter extract the relevant entries from the dataset, as well as check no additional coins had been reported since – this led to the welcome discovery that a Primary Series “proto-penny” has been added to the PAS database, from an approximate provenance on the Hog’s Back ridge in Artington parish (SUR-07B520).

Surrey’s “newest” proto-penny (PAS Unique ID SUR-07B520)

I have chosen to apply the same basic tests to three groups of coins: “pre-pennies” (gold issues of the sixth and early-seventh centuries), “proto-pennies” (including transitional gold thrymsas), and “pennies” (all broad-flan silver issues plus a copper styca from Lambeth) through to a cut-off point of the year 850. The reason for choosing this rather than, say, the year 865 in parallel with Rory Naismith’s recently-published study is that 851 was (if the annalistic sources are to be believed) the year in which Viking raiders “marched southward over the Thames into Surrey”, the first of their documented incursions into the region. These seem to have been the impetus for the deposition of the coin hoards from Croydon Palace (c.857), Dorking (c.862) and Wandsworth (c.873) but, because I don’t know their compositions, I have had to exclude any pre-851 issues they contained from my tally. I have, on the other hand, included the poorly-recorded early sixth-century tremissis hoard from Kingston and the newly-reported group of three coins from Effingham. The results of the updated data collection exercise are tabulated in the following attachment:

List of Surrey Provenances of Early Medieval Coins circa 500 to 850 July 2013

To begin with, that coins have come from no fewer than 31 Surrey parishes (or 22% of the county total of 141, as defined in my post earlier in the week concerning charter references) is a pleasant surprise, not to mention a further challenge to the belief that there is little to show for the Middle Anglo-Saxon centuries in Surrey. (To be clear, in line with my first SMSW post, I treat Artington as distinct from Guildford – though the questionable provenances of the coins EMC gives as being found at Guildford should be noted once more – but use the civil parish name of Normandy in place of Henley.) With the caveat that for the first the exact number is unknown owing to the improper recording of the Kingston hoard, the three classes of coins account for the following percentages of the total Surrey corpus:

“Pre-penny” = 13/77 = 17%

Proto-penny” = 46/77 = 60%

“Penny” = 18/77 = 23%

These are round about what I was expecting (but having put together the original list I should have had a fairly good sense of the proportions, shouldn’t I?). Looking more closely at Chertsey’s role in matters, a different but again not unexpected picture emerges. Ten out of the 31 parishes (or 32%) have pre-1066 documentary association with the monastery. Replicating the above calculations for the relevant Chertsey-linked coins produces the following percentages:

“Pre-penny” = 0/13 = 0%

Proto-penny” = 27/46 = 52%

“Penny” = 3/18 = 17%

Straight away it can be seen that there is no relationship between the earliest coins and Chertsey, which is no surprise given they pre-date the (re)foundation of the monastery and the four provenance parishes amount to less than 3% of the Surrey total. By way of comparison, Domesday Book (our first near-enough comprehensive survey of the county’s landholding geography) names 21 vills which Chertsey either held outright or held a portion of, out of a total of 148 vills = 14%. So the chances of the two factors coinciding were very slim to begin with. On a similar tack, if we consider the parishes rather than the coins then much the same pattern emerges:

Chertsey-linked “pre-penny” parishes = 0/4 = 0%

Chertsey-linked “proto-penny” parishes = 10/22 = 45%

Chertsey-linked “penny” parishes = 2/10 = 20%

The greater variation between the two “proto-penny” percentages than their “penny” counterparts is the effect of Lambeth’s exceptional prolificness in regards to the former. To put Lambeth in the context of Surrey as a whole, it accounts for nearly 22% of all “proto-pennies” known from Surrey (and nearly 42% of the Chertsey total, emphasising its posited status as the conduit through which so much of the monastery’s exchange activity was channelled) but not even 5% of the non-hoard coins from the century after circa 750 (though the two coins that are known from there nevertheless represent two-thirds of the Chertsey total). Unquestionably, Lambeth is a place quite unlike any of the others in Surrey to which the label “productive” has been or could be attributed, a point I will return to in a separate piece I have half-written already.

Of course, Lambeth’s status as a Chertsey possession is not established beyond doubt, and now is a good time for me to explain why I have made a handful of what I hope will come across as justifiable assumptions when conducting my analysis:

  1. I have treated Charlwood and Horley as parishes with a Chertsey connection, despite neither being named as one of its estates. I have done this because Dennis Turner and Roger Ellaby have marshalled strong arguments for Chertsey possessing a sizeable tract of land in the area in the late-seventh/eighth century (see references in my very first tract on coins and so forth); indeed, one or the other names both places as being within this holding. Moreover, at the risk of sounding flippant, one wonders what other reason there could be for coins to be found so deep in the Weald.
  2. West Clandon does not have the same strong documentary link to Chertsey as its easterly namesake; all we know with any real degree of certainty is that two hides were transferred from the smaller to the larger hidated Clandon circa 1060 (S 1035), which can only mean the land was detached from West Clandon and appended to East Clandon. There is no indication as to where the two hides lay – it would make sense if they abutted East Clandon, but anyone who knows anything about medieval history knows that things aren’t always that simple. Therefore I feel obliged to state that it’s just possible the numismatic “productive site” on the western edge of West Clandon parish fell within Chertsey territory as documented in its cartulary, but will quickly follow that by opining that the idea seems highly dubious. Why I treat West Clandon as a Chertsey estate is that I subscribe to John Blair’s postulation that the two Clandons are subdivisions of an earlier whole; the recurrence of the place-name in the Chertsey charters raise the likelihood of the unitary estate being another early possession of the monastery.
  3. Pyrford is a highly enigmatic estate in terms of its origins. Being on the southern edge of Godley Hundred, by rights it should have been owned and/or claimed by Chertsey, yet there is no evidence of this whatsoever. On the contrary, it first appears in 956 as a bookland in the royal gift (S 621). However much it looks as if it should conform to an obvious pattern, Pyrford may never have been Chertsey land; this was the conclusion reached by Susan Kelly in her edition of the Abingdon archive (see page 5 note 22 of my essay on the “Surrey Fens” causeways for the actual references) and is one I adhere to on this occasion.

I’m not sure whether I can still stand by the idea espoused in earlier posts that all these coins can be seen to bear witness to a planned production and trade network linking the monastery at Chertsey, the trading site at Lambeth and wool/cloth-producing estates further to the south, though I believe there is still plenty to recommend a slightly scaled-back reading of the evidence along such lines. All the same, accepting that the metal-detecting activities which have contributed the vast majority of recorded coins being assessed here have not been influenced by the association of a particular parish/place with of Chertsey, it does appear to be the case that the monastery was more effective/proactive in facilitating the passage of coins into Surrey than any other institution.

I won’t do equivalent calculations for royal-linked properties because, put simply, it is impossible to get an accurate view of what was a royal vill/estate in Surrey in this period. Save for Kingston (S 281, S 1438), the few direct references we do possess – villam Fritheuuoldi (S 1165), Freoricburna (S 144, S 280) – are too opaque to be attributable to particular parishes. Among the options open to us, perhaps the most useful measure is finding the percentage of coins found in parishes with a documented royal connection in Domesday Book and earlier. Of the ten parishes that are the provenance of coins included in the “penny” class, four (Dorking, Godalming, Guildford, Leatherhead) are known royal properties and together account for 10 coins, or 56% of the county total. If Lambeth (owned by Countess Goda, sister of Edward the Confessor, according to Domesday) is added to the mix, this rises to 12 coins/67%. Shalford, despite sharing characteristics with the likes of Dorking and Leatherhead, has had to be excluded from this because not once is it recorded as being in royal possession. As with Chertsey and “proto-penny” issues, the positive correlation between the here-called “penny” issues and estates later documented in royal ownership applies to a majority of the coins from the county with identifiable provenances, but the trend is not overwhelming. In other words, royalty and royal officials appear to have been able to exercise greater geographical influence as well as the obvious political control over coin use than the likes of Chertsey or the other ecclesiastical powers operating in Surrey in the second half of the eighth century and first half of the ninth, but not to the exclusion of other engines of influence.

Finally, a word (and a percentage) or two about the course of the Thames and the distribution and use of coins. With the river acting as a natural cultural corridor (one that certainly played a role in the influx of Anglo-Saxon population/culture from the late-fifth century on) and the existence of the emporium of Lundenwic across the river from Surrey’s north-easternmost portion, it should follow that the adjacent estates/parishes collectively exhibit greater levels of coin use than areas in the Surrey interior. What happens when the calculations are done for Thames-side parishes alone can be seen below (respective all Surrey percentages in brackets):

Thames-side “pre-penny” finds = 11/13 = 85% (17%)

Thames-side proto-penny” finds = 25/46 = 54% (60%)

Thames-side “penny” finds = 3/18 = 17% (23%)

The first figure is distorted massively by the Kingston hoard but still can be accepted as evidence for a positive bias towards the river corridor (dare we attribute any significance to the two provenances in question being the key later centres of Kingston and Southwark?). The “proto-penny” result is of unquestionable importance, for it represents over half of the county total but derived from a little over 16% of its parishes (23 in number). This correlates well with the idea of sites along the river plugged in to inter-regional and international trading networks, not just on its tidal or near-tidal reaches (e.g. Bermondsey, Battersea, Putney as well as Lambeth) but upstream at Chertsey and Egham (or more accurately Milton Park) too. Meanwhile, the drop-off in issues from the era of the first broad-flan pennies, to a very proportional 17%, does more than suggest the diminished importance of Lambeth as a location for coin-based trade. It intimates a general turning away from maritime trading networks and Lundenwic towards inland centres of production and political authority, both at a supra-regional level (the rival kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex) and a regional one – hence the penny-producing sites associated with royal-controlled ?ex-minsters at Dorking, Leatherhead Shalford and probably Guildford.

Though it can be argued with quantitative justification that Chertsey was the most important motor for the distribution of the “proto-penny” coins found and reported to date in Surrey, and the majority of finds of subsequent silver pennies coincide with locally-important royal-linked properties, so there remain a plethora of coins which cannot be accommodated within such models. The picture that emerges ultimately is one of plurality, in terms of the practices represented by the coins, the institutions involved in their use and exchange, the types of settlement or other site at which they came to be deposited and the sub-regions of Surrey in which they have been found. On all counts, the Surrey numismatic data is anything but unrepresentative of the broader trends in coin use/loss previously identified elsewhere in eastern England, but this does not make it any less satisfying to be the first to identify them in my home county.

(This post is dedicated to two people I met over the weekend: Alan Sewell, with whom I had a most enjoyable chat about Anglo-Saxon architecture, art history and a whole bunch more besides, and Peter the cafe owner, who makes the best salt beef sandwich this side of Smithfield.)


Pestell, Tim, ‘The Afterlife of “Productive” Sites in East Anglia’ in Markets in Early Medieval Europe: Trading and ‘Productive’ Sites, 650-850, ed. by Tim Pestell & Katharina Ulmschneider (Macclesfield: Windgather, 2003), 122-37


About Robert J S Briggs

Back to being a part-time early medievalist; Surrey born, London based, been known to travel
This entry was posted in Anglo-Saxon, Archaeology, Being organised, Chertsey, Church, Coins, Dating, Domesday, internet, Landscape, London, Monasteries, Numismatics, Portable Antiquities Scheme, Statistics, Surrey, Trade and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to SMSW 3 – a statistical perspective on Surrey’s early medieval coin corpus

  1. Tonnes of info, thanks a million for the post. Can I ask, are there many known AS coins (from a British context) with ‘aepa’ inscriptions?

    • To be honest I don’t know the answer to your question as I am new to the numismatic game and on a steep learning curve. I have a book that may contain the answer but I am on holiday at present and so it’s 2000 miles or so away from me! I’ll check when I’m back and email you the answer but you would get a more informed response by contacting an expert like Tony Abramson or John Naylor – search their names and you should be able to find their respective emails.

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